Marley and Me by John Grogan

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This book was on my “To Read” list for a while.  (It came out in 2005.)  It got bumped up to the top when I saw that a movie of the book was being made.  I wanted to make sure I’d read the book before seeing the film.  I knew I would like it, there were many recommendations from others to read it, so it was no surprise that I enjoyed it as much as I did.  My recommendation to others, however, is conditional: 

If you are an animal and pet lover I absolutely encourage you to read this book.  I can nearly guarantee that you will love it.

If you don’t really care for animals, or don’t enjoy living with pets (especially dogs) you should pass on this one.

If you are on the fence, thinking about possibly getting a dog, maybe don’t have a lot of experience owning a dog, I recommend that you avoid this book at all costs as it could severely and unfairly bias your decision.  (…I’m only half-joking.)

Marley & Me is John Grogan’s true account of “life and love with the world’s worst dog.”  Marley was a Labrador Retriever whose life was chronicled in humorous detail by the owner who loved him.  Marley was incredibly neurotic, spastic and slobbery but also exceedingly loyal and loving.  For people who have lived with troublesome dogs, there is a certain understanding (and sympathy!) that comes from reading about Marley’s antics.  Marley proved to be exceptional in that he possessed more than his fair share of bothersome canine personality traits, but he still managed to come through as a hero after Grogan’s loving testimonial.

In addition to the hilarious retellings of Marley’s shenanigans, the real joy of the book comes from the way Grogan shares the intertwining of Marley’s life with his own.  Marley is there when Grogan and his wife, Jenny, are living as newlyweds, when they have difficulty conceiving a child, then for the birth of each of their three children.  He witnesses family arguments, triumphs and life changes including career decisions and a cross-country move.  Through it all, Marley is there being Marley and being a part of the family.  Readers who love their pets will enjoy the book for its tender acknowledgment of all that animal family members give to those they love.

John Grogan is a pleasure to read.  More recently he wrote a book titled The Longest Trip Home which is a memoir of his childhood.  I have not read it yet, but if you enjoy(ed) Marley & Me, it might be worth checking out.  He has also written a couple of children’s books about Marley illustrated by Richard Cowdrey — Bad Dog, Marley! and A Very Marley Christmas.

Published in: on January 21, 2009 at 5:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

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I know there are a lot of loyal David Sedaris fans out there, so I’m hesitant to say anything negative about the guy.  But I read his latest book of humorous essays, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, and was decidedly underwhelmed.  It’s possible that my expectations were unrealistic.  It was, after all, the first of his books that I have read, and knowing that all of his books have been New York Times Bestsellers and that he contributes regularly to NPR’s This American Life, I was expecting a lot.

That’s not to say I hated the book — because I absolutely didn’t.  I even laughed (well, it was more like a quick, unexpected exhalation) when the author was describing his unusual Japanese hair salon experience.  And I enjoyed the format:  short essays that don’t require large chunks of time to commit to reading, making it a perfect book to have in the car, in the bathroom or on the bedside table, if you’re like me and tend to fall asleep quickly while reading in bed.  But as far as the humor genre goes (to which I admit I have been greatly underexposed) I preferred the only other collection of humorous essays I’ve ever read, Don’t Get Too Comfortable by David Rakoff, which I highly recommend, whether you are a Sedaris fan or not.

I think my biggest issue with When You Are Engulfed in Flames was how self-deprecating Sedaris is.  I know, I know, that’s his modus operandi, the thing that makes him so entertaining and endearing.  But I can only listen to (or read about) someone beating themself up over and over before it becomes distracting and I feel a nagging obligation to step in and reassure them that they’re not as much of a hypocrite as they think they are, that they really are worthy of being in a long-term relationship with a great person, and that no, their butt isn’t too flat, it’s really just fine.  The exception to the trend was the final essay in the book, which was also my favorite (probably no coincidence) in which Sedaris documents his experiences while quitting smoking.  I guess he just couldn’t be too hard on himself after such an accomplishment.

To end on a good note, I do think David Sedaris is an excellent writer.  I would imagine that being funny while writing would be a unique challenge since so much of humor is expressed in verbal and physical nuances.  Sedaris manages to express wit and sarcasm without being too cerebral.  The jokes are easy to get, it’ll just depend on your personal preferences whether you like them or not.

Published in: on January 1, 2009 at 6:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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